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Rutherford-Boltwood

Posted: Thu Apr 25, 2002 3:25 pm
by Richard Hull
"Rutherford and Boltwood: "Letters on Radioactivity", Badash (edited by), 1969. This book is fabulous. It is a collection of the private correspondence between two big names in the early history of radioactivity. (early 1900s to about 1920). You really are privy to the personal thoughts, suspicions, prejudices and fears of these two luminaries. Most of the talk is shop talk about the discoveries coming in machine gun like fusilades from their peers, foes and others all hopping on the bandwagon of radioactivity. Boltwood, a chemist, sought to isolate the parent of radium. (still in doubt at that time). They speak in surrly undertones of some of their peers who we now recognize as part of the great revolution of that time. You follow a time of discovery closely and can just glimpse the end of a Victorian era in manner and demeanor in their letters. Rutherford, of course, would go on to become the king of the radioactive world on into the 30's. Boltwood would make significant contributions on his own, but always being a depressive personality, would ultimately blow his brains out in 1927.

The rich section of photos of those early days are great. One of my favorites is the young Hans Geiger atop a horse dressed as a dashing Prussian officer in training prior to WW I. A great scientist as a military man is not the normal image we conjure up.

This book is one of those things it is hard for a techno type interested in nuclear science history to put down.

Richard Hull